|As Sure As Hell
by Rabbi Loren Jacobs
What do you say when someone asks you, "If I don't accept your religion, am I going to Hell?" or "Are you telling me that if I don't believe in Jesus, a Jewish carpenter who died 2,000 years ago, I'm going to Hell?" Have you ever been asked a question that? Most of us have. How should we answer? Rich Nichol and Jamie Cowen, leaders in the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC), were recently asked by a reporter for the Jerusalem Post whether Jewish people who don't believe in Jesus were going to Hell. According to an article that appeared last summer in the Jerusalem Post, Rich responded: "Our primary identity is as Jews. We're not evangelists. He said that the UMJC ... does not believe that Jews who have not accepted Jesus are doomed to hell."
Here's how I would have answered it: B'va-dai! Of course! And, here's why:
Hell Is a Reality
We need to know that Hell is a reality. The divinely inspired Word of God, which is true and contains no errors, presents Hell, like Heaven, as a very real place. Hell is described as a place of disgrace and everlasting contempt (Daniel 12:2), and a place of fire (Matthew 5:22). In fact, it is a Lake of Fire that burns with fire and brimstone -- burning sulfur (Revelation 20:14, 21:8). It is a place of destruction (Matthew 7:13). Messiah told us not to fear those who can kill the body (the First Death), but rather to fear God who can destroy both body and soul in Hell. It is described as the Second Death -- the First Death being physical death in this world, and the Second Death (Revelation 21:14) being the final separation from God that takes place after the Judgment. If anyone is cast into Hell, there is no escape.
The Need for Hell
Gehenna, one of the names for Hell, gives us a fascinating insight into its purpose. Gehenna comes from "the valley of the son of Hinnom." It was a deep, narrow area to the south of Jerusalem, where those Jewish people who became idolatrous, burned their children alive as sacrifices to Molech, (2 Chronicles 28:3; 33:6; Jeremiah 7:33). This valley later became the garbage dump for the city. Here the garbage, perhaps including the dead bodies of animals and all kinds of filth, were cast and consumed by fire. Over time it became the symbol of the final destiny of the wicked, a place connected to false religion, of things that are no longer useful, but fit only to be burned and destroyed.
Hell serves as the ultimate destiny of the Devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41), and all human beings who have joined them in their rebellion against God. God is infinitely holy, pure and good. He is separate from sin and evil. He will not allow the rebellious, the wicked, the ungodly, the unrighteous, the unrepentant, into His presence, and into the New Heavens and the New Earth, and the New Jerusalem, where only righteousness may dwell. Nothing unclean or evil may enter it. It must be removed, forever separated from the righteous God, the righteous angels and the souls of men that have been made righteous. That is Hell's purpose.
The Whole World Is Going to Hell
We need to realize that apart from the redemption and salvation provided by God, by having faith in God, and offering the appropriate sacrifice, first at the Temple in Jerusalem, and then through Messiah Yeshua, the whole world is going to Hell, and here's why: at the very beginning of human history, our first parents rebelled against God. After being warned not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, our first parents rebelled against God. They sinned and ate from the Forbidden Tree.
They believed the Father of Lies more than trusting in the word of the Almighty. They sided with Satan, the god of this world, more than the God of Heaven. By doing so, they joined forces with Satan in his rebellion. This one sinful rebellious act enabled Satan, sin and death to take control of humanity. The whole world came under the Devil's authority. John tells us that the whole world lies in the power of the wicked one (1 John 5:19). Human beings in their natural condition are under the authority of the domain of darkness, that powerful, evil, demonic kingdom that is in rebellion against God, filled with lies, deception, deceit, chaos, rebellion and death. They share Satan's doom in the Lake of Fire that was prepared for him and the fallen angels that rebelled with him.
From the moment that Adam and Eve rebelled against our wonderful Creator, everything changed. Their sin and rebellion affected every aspect of their nature. Their body, their soul, their will, their mind, their spirit, had become corrupted. Their orientation toward God, who is HaMakor -- the Source of Life, changed for the worse. Instead of drawing nearer to God, Adam and Eve ran away from Him. They were alienated from Him. Adam and Eve were exiled from the Garden of Eden, and forbidden to eat from the Tree of Life. They were headed toward death -- the First Death and the Second Death -- Hell. The consequences that resulted from the rebellion of our first parents were passed on to all of their descendants like a deadly virus. That corruption of body, soul and spirit was passed on like a horrible degenerative disease to all of their billions of sons and daughters. Here is the human condition according to King David: The Lord has looked down from Heaven (thoroughly searching with His all-seeing eyes) upon the sons of men to see if there are any who understand (they don't), who seek after God (they don't seek Him sufficiently). They have all turned aside (and missed God and salvation). Together they have become corrupt. There is no one who does good, not even one (Psalm 14). Human beings are "sons of disobedience" -- disobedient children. By our very nature, by inherent predisposition, we are disobedient to God. We live according to this sinful world's corrupt values, satanically empowered, indulging the lusts of the flesh and the lusts of the mind -- physical sins and mental sins, and are by nature children of wrath, deserving of the righteous wrath and punishment of an infinitely holy God. Human beings who are only born once in this world are mere human beings -- flesh -- not spirit. They are of this world, not of the next. They are perishable -- not imperishable. The entire world of human beings is perishing, decaying and headed for destruction like a spoiled meat or rotten fruit (John 3:16).
As is true for all humanity, the Jewish people are now lost. The Jewish people are without Temple, without sacrifice, without atonement, basing their religion on a broken covenant that cannot save. Non-Messianic Jews have been broken off from the Olive Tree of Salvation and Blessing. The Son of God said to Jewish people who were immersed in Judaism that, now that He had come into the world, He was the Way -- which means that there is no other way. Non-Messianic Judaism is not the way. Can Islam provide the Way? Buddhism? Being a good person? The answer is, categorically, no! Yeshua, who cannot lie, said that He is the Truth -- which means that there is not enough truth to save you anywhere else. Having a zeal for God, but not having the knowledge of the truth about Yeshua, and the righteousness that believing in Him provides, is not enough. It leads to Hell. Israel has pursued righteousness the wrong way, and stumbled over the Stumbling Stone, by not placing their faith in Messiah (Romans 9:31-33). Yeshua, who is never wrong, said that He is the Life, which means that apart from Him you will not live forever with God. Yeshua, who is infallible, said that apart from placing faith in Him, no man could get to the Father (John 14:6).
Yeshua said to a group of Jewish leaders (men who believed in God, who knew the Torah, who went to the Temple in Jerusalem and offered sacrifices), "Unless you believe that I am He, you shall die in your sins" (John 8:24). And if Israel, the Chosen People, apart from Yeshua, is lost, where does that leave Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus and the irreligious? Simon Peter stood before the Sanhedrin and declared to the leading priests, scholars and rabbis of Israel that there is salvation nowhere and in no one other than Yeshua of Nazareth (Acts 4:12). It doesn't get much clearer than that! Judaism apart from Yeshua can't save anyone. Paul, perhaps the greatest theologian of all time (apart from Messiah Yeshua) made it crystal clear that if during our earthly life we personally confess with our mouth that Yeshua is Lord, and believe in our heart that God raised Him from the dead, we will be saved. But, the inverse truth is equally clear: if during the earthly phase of our life we don't confess with our mouth and believe in our heart, we will be lost. The Rabbi from Tarsus had great sorrow and unceasing grief in his heart because he knew the lost state of his Jewish people who didn't believe in Messiah Yeshua.
The Jewish people are more responsible to believe -- not less responsible. When Messiah came, He came to us. He was one of us; and to whom much is given, much is required. The more you know, the more is expected of you, and the more you are punished if you fail. We are entrusted with the Oracles of God, which contain the Messianic Prophecies and all the symbols, signs and principles that point us to King Messiah. In our Torah, we were specifically warned not to reject the great Prophet who would come who would be like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15-19); if we did, God would hold us responsible and would severely punish us. Nat Finestone asks, "Why would the apostles willingly suffer martyrdom for the Gospel if it were unnecessary to believe? Why would Paul be willing to be accursed -- to sacrifice his eternal destiny -- if his Jewish brothers who denied Yeshua were already saved? Paul affirmed that the Gentiles are lost as well. They are excluded from the commonwealth of Israel. They are strangers to the covenants that contain the promises of salvation and reconciliation. They have no hope and they are without God.
We Can't Save Ourselves From Hell
Not only is the world alienated from God, utterly lost, unsaved, unrighteous, under the authority of Satan, without hope and headed to Hell, but we are also completely incapable of changing this situation on our own. Just as we are incapable of saving ourselves from the First Death, we are totally incapable of saving ourselves from the Second Death. Sin has so alienated us from God, and so corrupted our nature, that we are in a state of spiritual death. We are dead in our trespasses and sins. Dead people are incapable of giving themselves life! Salvation cannot come from anything having to do with human effort or how good a person we are. We can never be good enough, or righteous enough, or religious enough. There are not enough good things that we can do, not enough money we can give, mitzvahs we can fulfill, nor merit that we can earn that will enable us to avoid the Lake of Fire. Salvation from sin, death, Satan and Hell, and restoration to God and life cannot be accomplished by man. All human efforts will prove inadequate. We can't redeem ourselves. We can't restore ourselves to God, no matter how hard we try.
Only God Can Save Us
But what we are utterly incapable of doing, God is completely capable of accomplishing! God had a plan to make salvation out of Hell possible. As soon as Adam and Eve sinned, the Lord provided a substitute, an innocent animal whose life was sacrificed and whose blood was shed. Those who had faith in the one true God, and offered a sacrifice, could be forgiven. Centuries later, the Lord made covenants with Israel. If we placed our faith in God and obeyed His Word, and offered the korbanot -- the sacrifices that enabled us to draw close to God, we could be forgiven. But those sacrifices were temporary, and were effective only when accompanied by faith, and only until the Final and Perfect Sacrifice came -- the Lamb of God, the sacrificed Messiah, who is able to fully take away the sins of Israel and the entire world. God the Father sent the eternal, self-existing Son of God who was with the Father, from Heaven to Earth, and He became a man. He allowed Himself to be whipped, beaten, spit on, humiliated, stripped naked and crucified! By dying in our place, by bearing our sins on the cross, by satisfying all the claims which a holy God had against us, by taking on Himself the curse for breaking God's laws, becoming the ultimate sin-offering, the problem of sin has been fully and eternally dealt with. Because of the Son of God's ultimate sacrifice and the perfect atonement He accomplished on the cross, God's ability to forgive all of our sins is infinite and perfectly complete. Because of His one, perfect, final and complete sacrifice, whoever believes in Yeshua has forgiveness for all his sins. Not one of our rebellious acts is left that will be held against us, that will drag us down to Hell!
When we draw near to God by drawing near to Yeshua, we are delivered from the domain of darkness, and transferred to the Kingdom of His beloved Son (Colossians 1:13). We are delivered from these dark, demonic, deceiving powers. We are removed from under the authority of the god of this world, and given a new citizenship in a new kingdom under a new authority. We no longer share the Devil's final destination. When we draw near to God by drawing near to Yeshua, our old sinful, willful, God-independent nature, predisposed to rebel, starts losing its power. We are no longer dominated by the old human nature that was hostile to God, but we are in the Spirit -- led to do the will and the deeds of God's Holy Spirit. When we are born again, we are given new life, a new heart, a new mind that is compatible with a holy God, a new nature that wants to serve Him, and not rebel against Him. Instead of being children of wrath, children of disobedience, we become the children of God -- the Almighty's very own beloved sons and daughters! Without being born again, we can't enter the Kingdom of God -- we will wind up in Hell -- but with Messiah's spiritual rebirth, we will experience eternal life in God's Kingdom.
We draw near to God by coming to know that Yeshua is the Son of God, the Savior, who came into this world, and died, and rose again. When we consciously place our faith in Him, and believe in Him, and trust Him, we identify with Him. We are immersed into Him. We become bone of Messiah's bone, flesh of Messiah's flesh. We are in Messiah, and Messiah is in us, and God the Father is in Messiah Yeshua. We are in the heart of Yeshua, who is in the heart of the Father. We have the incredible privilege of being joined to Him in whom dwells all the fullness of God! The Father sees us joined to Messiah and sees His dearly beloved Son! The Father sees us joined to Messiah and behold, we are whiter than snow! The Father sees us joined to Messiah and He sees all the beauty and grace and righteousness of the Lord Yeshua. The Father sees us joined to Messiah and declares that we are righteous.
We Must Bring the Good News to Jews and Gentiles
If we do know the way to escape from sin, Satan, the Second Death, Hell, and we enter into the atonement the Messiah provides, and are born again, we must devote ourselves to bringing the Gospel -- the Good News, the Message about the God of Israel, and the Son of God who alone can save us, to the rest of the world of dying human beings who are headed to Gehenna, so they too can become sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father. We are commanded to be His witnesses, to give our testimony about what we know to be true about Him. We are His ambassadors. He has entrusted us with His mission. Jews and Gentiles must confess that Yeshua is Lord and must believe in their hearts to be saved. They must call on the name of the Lord to be saved. But, how will they call upon the name of the Lord, who alone can save them from Hell, if they don't believe? And how can they believe in the Savior, if they don't hear about the Him? And how will they hear about Him apart from our telling them?
We Must Not Deny Him
We must confess Him to all men. Yeshua warned us that "everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in Heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in Heaven" (Matthew 10:32-33). We are warned that if we deny Him, He will deny us. There are various ways to deny Him. There is direct denial, like that of Simon Peter, who, admittedly, when he was in a very difficult situation, denied that he was associated with Yeshua, and that he didn't know Him. I have known quite a few people who have openly denied the Lord. But then, there are other forms of denial, indirect perhaps, but denial nonetheless.
When we refuse to be identified with Messiah's Messengers, we deny the Messiah. Paul laments that at his first defense, no one supported him; everyone deserted him; but the Lord stood with him. He had to pray that it would not be counted against them. Onesiphorus is commended for not being ashamed of Paul's imprisonment, and was willing to be identified and closely associated with him. The author writing to the Messianic Jews tells them to "remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated" (Hebrews 13:3). Paul wrote, "Do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the Gospel -- the Message about salvation through the Messiah. In our day, when we don't identify with those involved in missions and evangelism, we deny the Lord. In the summer of 2003, Jamie Cowen, president of the UMJC, in an article in the Jerusalem Post, emphasized that the UMJC does not missionize. "We don't hand out pamphlets. We have no association with the Jews for Jesus, who have an entirely different mentality, outlook and starting point." When we say, "I'm only into 'friendship evangelism.' I don't force my religion on others," what we are really doing is trying to make ourselves look better by disassociating from those who are boldly proclaiming the Good News. All evangelism that is done honorably is good evangelism, and we should stand with those who are doing it. We must identify with those who are at the forefront of evangelism. If we don't, we are denying Him.
When we don't identify with Messiah's Community, we deny the Lord. When a Messianic Jew doesn't want to identify with the rest of the Community of true believers, particularly with the Evangelical Church, something is wrong. Something is wrong with those who say, "I am not a Christian. I am a Messianic Jew. I am not a part of Christianity" -- when the reality is that Messianic Jews are 100% Jewish and 100% followers of the Christ -- or Christian, and we are part of Christianity. It's okay to identify as a Messianic Jew, but we must also clearly identify with the rest of the true Christian community. When people take every opportunity to pick the splinters out of the eyes of the Christian Church, and distance themselves from it, when there are logs in their own Messianic Jewish eyes, something is wrong. Could this disassociation from our Christian brothers, who are our allies and friends, come from the fear of incurring the disfavor of the larger Jewish community? If so, this is precisely the hypocrisy that earned Peter a public rebuke from Rabbi Paul (Galatians 2:11-13).
When we don't identify with the Message, we deny the Lord. The Good News, the Gospel, is predicated on Bad News -- that mankind is lost, alienated from God, headed to Hell. Why preach a Savior if there is nothing to be saved from? What is the need for the Good News if there is no bad news? We must identify with bold, aggressive proclamation of the Message -- evangelism. What He whispers in our ear, all of us are to shout from the tops of our houses. We must not be ashamed of the Gospel, which includes the need for a Savior to deliver us from Hell, because it's the power of God that can provide salvation to all of humanity, to the Jewish people first, and also to the rest of the world. Jews and Gentiles -- that covers just about everyone, doesn't it? That tells us that Islam is not okay. It will not deliver from Hell. Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism are not okay. They will not save anyone from Gehenna. Secular Humanism, Post-Modernism, I'm-a-good-personism are not okay. Embracing these religions and philosophies and worldviews will keep you on your way to Hell.
We don't fully identify with the Message ...
We must not tone down any aspect of the Message, including Hell. The truth about salvation and Hell should not be "nuanced." We must be clear, strong, courageous and bold. There should be no hemming or hawing, no evasiveness or scholarly equivocation. The Lord Yeshua was bold and clear, and He didn't back down or tone down the truth. In fact, when He was under pressure, He got stronger. Perhaps the greatest example was when Yeshua was asked by the High Priest whether He was the Messiah, and the Son of God. He didn't reply, "well, actually, you are the messiah, because you are the anointed High Priest, and the prophets were messiahs, and all the kings were messiahs, and we are all sons of God, so yes, I suppose that I too am the Messiah and the Son of God."
No, He affirmed that He was the unique Messiah and the Son of God, and went on to make it clearer and bolder that He would be seen sitting at God's right hand, in the position of greatest honor in the universe, and then returning to Earth on Heaven's clouds, surrounded with honor and glory and power! Did He suffer as a result of His answer? Yes. And here's the problem: we don't really want to suffer along with Him, and be rejected along with Him.
The New Testament records this same boldness characterized Messiah's Emissaries: "They began to speak the word of God with boldness." "We use great boldness in our speech." "Paul was in Jerusalem, speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord." "Paul entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly." Paul asked the saints to "pray that I may make known with boldness the Gospel... that I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak." Did they suffer as a result of their bold proclamation? Yes. And here again is the problem: we don't really want to suffer along with them, and be rejected with them. If you say that people don't need to believe in Yeshua in order to avoid going to Hell, you eliminate the need for bold preaching of the Gospel. Such equivocation is a form of denying the Lord.
Answers to Objections
"But what about those who have never heard the Message? Will they go to Hell?" You know, most of humanity will wind up in Hell. The gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. The gate is small, and the way is narrow, that leads to life, and few are those who find it. I am very concerned for those who haven't heard. If they are truly seeking after truth and God, God will help them find Him. God will send someone to them. Let's endeavor to be that someone. Maybe you should go!
In the book in the Bible where it may appear to give some hope to Gentiles who have not had the written revelation of God (Romans 2:14-15), Paul also tells us that the Gentiles are expected to know that there is only one powerful Creator. There is no excuse for not knowing and believing in Him (Romans 1: 18-20). God has written His moral laws on their hearts, and they are expected to live according to them. But all have missed the mark and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). No one is good enough. No one is moral enough. No one is spiritual enough. The Gentiles are "under sin" (Romans 3:9). Unbelieving Gentiles are described as enemies of God (Romans 5:10). They are disobedient (Romans 11:31), and shut up in disobedience (Romans 11:32). Because they have some of the laws of God written on their hearts, and have a conscience, Gentiles may do many good things, but not enough to save them. However, the Lord is good and merciful, and "to such persons God sends the Gospel" (Ryrie). Those who follow the light they are given, are given more.
What is the solution to the Gentiles' dilemma? The acceptance of the Good News about Messiah, for "whoever believes in Him won't be disappointed." This applies to Gentiles and to Jews, for "whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved. And how will they call upon the Savior, if they don't believe in Him? And how will they believe in Him, if they don't hear about Him? And how can they hear about the One who can save them if those of us who know the Lord don't tell them?" (Romans 10:11-15). The Gentiles are shut up under disobedience, but can receive mercy through embracing the truth about the Messiah (Romans 11:30).
"What about children who die young?" This is a question about which the Holy Scriptures do not give explicit answers, but let me offer some thoughts. I have never found the phrase "the age of accountability" in the Scriptures; but I have found where King David taught, "I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me" -- that from the moment of his conception he had a sinful, rebellious nature. I trust in God, that He is good and just, loves the little children, wants the children to come to Him, and their angels in Heaven are continually seeing the face of God. Yet, I still want to reach the parents, and reach the children, and help them learn about the way of the Lord, and find salvation in the Messiah.
"But if I do tell people that they are going to Hell, won't I be told that I am intolerant?" Yes, you will be told that you are intolerant, and narrow, and bigoted, and mean, and unfair, because the spirit of our age includes a twisted understanding of tolerance. True tolerance means trying to be gracious, and treating fairly and being at peace with those who differ or disagree with us. But, true tolerance does not demand that you believe that there are no absolutes, no rights and no wrongs, that all religions, all gods, all ideas, all practices are equally valid and beneficial and good and true. In an age of twisted tolerance, we must be separate from the world and stand out by boldly declaring that Hell is real and that Yeshua is the only Savior, and there is salvation nowhere else.
"But if I do tell people that they are going to Hell, and that Yeshua is the only way, might I not experience rejection and persecution? Might I not suffer? Lose my job? Friends? Family? Perhaps. But aren't you willing to suffer a little for the One who suffered so much for you? "Won't that make my life harder?" It may. Is your goal to have an easy life? Messiah's warning is for you: The one who loves his life, and isn't willing to embrace Messiah's mission, and witness, and as a result, suffer persecution, will lose it, but the one who hates his life in this world, who is willing to rock the boat, stirring things up, being a bold witness, will keep it and gain eternal life. If you do suffer, be happy. You are in good company with prophets, apostles, holy men and women, and the Lord Himself. If you suffer for the sake of proclaiming the Good News, you are doing what is right. It shows that you are serious about the Lord and His word. You will grow closer to Messiah and share with Him in the fellowship of His suffering, God will smile down on you from Heaven, and you will be greatly and eternally rewarded.
So, when you are asked, "Are you are telling me that if I don't believe in Jesus, I'm going to Hell?", boldly declare the truth. The world has a right to know what we believe and why. They have a right to a straightforward, simple, clear answer to the question, "Are people who don't believe in Yeshua going to Hell?" They don't need nuances. They should not have to get a long, complicated theological answer. There is something seriously wrong when long, complicated theological answers are required to answer a simple, if uncomfortable question. You will find it liberating, for the truth will set you free!